Is it a novel? Is it a novella? Is it a novelette? It can be hard to decide what to call your book, but it's important to get it right so that you don't confuse or disappoint readers. This post offers guidelines suggested by experienced self-publishing author members of ALLi.
When promoting any work of fiction, it's important to use the right terms of reference. This will create appropriate expectations in your readers and help guard against disgruntled reviews such as these:
- “This turned out to be a short story, not a novel!” (left on a single short story)
- “I hate short stories hence my one-star review.” (left on a novel-length collection of short stories)
- “I only read non-fiction.” (left on a full-length novel with a cover and title that could have been misconstrued as a biography)
It's particularly important to get it right when promoting ebooks because the purchaser cannot physically assess the length of the book by picking it up in his hands. Yes, most sites state an approximate page length, but few readers check that detail, which is usually tucked away in small print along with the ISBN and publisher's name. (Why approximate? Because the actual page length of any ebook will vary in practice according to the settings of the ereader that it's read on, depending on the text size the user has chosen.)
Common Fiction Classifications
Some standard classications exist, although they can blur into each other. Here's a consensus that emerged from a lively discussion on ALLi's closed Facebook forum. (This forum is a members-only privilege, by the way, and to my mind, being a part of it fully justifies my ALLi membership fee, quite apart from the many other member benefits!)
- Novel – at least 40,000 words, with the standard commercial length being around 80,000, though many novels are much longer
- Novella – 17,5000-40,000 words
- Novelette – 7,500-17,500 words
- Short story– under 7,500 words
- Flash fiction (also sometimes called microfiction, sudden fiction, very short story, and discussed in my previous post here) – up to 1000 words (sometimes up to 500 in the UK)
- Vignette – “something that can be written on a vine leaf”, either prose or poetry (longer definition here at Vine Leaves Literary Journal, published by ALLI author member Jessica Bell)
- Small stone – a tiny observational piece of prose or poetry (defined by ALLi author Satya Robyn on this blog here)
By the way, it's worth noting that writing competitions will usually define their own terms within these genres. Make sure your entry is the right length. I've entered flash fiction competitions with maximum word counts ranging from 75 to 1,000 words, and the next on my list, the Stroud Short Story competition, calls for no more than 1,500 words!
Indie Author Options
Within each of the formats listed above, there's obviously room for manoeuvre and invention. As an independent author, you have the joyous freedom to call your work what you will and to publish a work of any length, subject to the minimum word counts laid down by your chosen publishing platform. When Founder of National Flash Fiction Day Calum Kerr, published a book combining stand-alone flash fiction to create a longer, coherent story, he called it a flash novella.
Jan Ruth, best known for her novels, says “I write collections of short stories, which come out around 10,000 each but I call them long-shorts because I'm not convinced the general public know what a novelette is.” (See cover image top right of this post)
Remember Your Reader
Whatever term you use, it must be meaningful to your reader. Publishing Quick Change, my first collection of flash fiction, I discovered that although flash fiction enthusiasts knew what to expect, many more didn't, including my mum and dad, both voracious readers. I hedged my bets by starting my description on Amazon with the following:
“Flash fiction, sudden fiction, microfiction, ultra short fiction – call them what you will, these twenty wry and witty short stories examine change at every stage of life, in a natural progression from birth to death.”
I'm hoping that packing in all those terms will also bring SEO benefits,.
Even so, I received the following review:
“Some of the stories could have been longer.”
Er, yes. But let's give last word on the subject to US author C J Booth, who writes novels, short stories and flash. In answer to the question “What do you call a piece of fiction of x words?” Charles replied succinctly:
“Good writing, if it's just right.”
With thanks to the following authors from all around the world for sharing their thoughts in the discussion that inspired this post:
Rasana Atreya (India), Jessica Bell (Greece), Charles Booth (USA), Calum Kerr (England), Fran Pickering (England) and Jan Ruth (Wales), Elisabeth Storrs (Australia) and John Yeoman (England)
OVER TO YOU
Do you agree with the definitions outlined above? Would you like to suggest alternatives? Please join the conversation via the comments section.
And if you'd like to join ALLi in order to take part in our closed Facebook forum, in which hundreds of professional self-publishing authors meet to share best practice and advice away from public view, click here to sign up.
“How long is a #shortstory? A #novel? Join the debate at https://selfpublishingadvice.org/fictionlength/ by @DebbieYoungBN via @IndieAuthorALLi”